Singapore firm eyes medical tourism dollar

Local startup launches Web platform offering patients help with travel arrangements and advice on hospital selection, in hopes of boosting tourism into the region.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

A Singapore company has launched a Web-based medical service aimed at raising the number of visitors seeking medical care in the region.

Announced Tuesday, the FlyFreeForHealth platform is a "medical concierge network", providing visitors medical advice via its portal. Nurses trained in hospitality, IT and tourism--dubbed iMedical Butlers--will offer the medical advice through the site, according to FlyFreeForHealth. The Singapore startup, which was established in August 2008, provides services designed for foreigners looking to receive medical care in the region.

Along with the launch of the service, FlyFreeForHealth unveiled that the Tourism Authority of Thailand has engaged its services. The company also roped in a new partner--Singapore travel agency, CTC Holidays.

The new e-service aims to help patients make travel arrangements into the region, in addition to pairing them with the appropriate hospitals.

FlyFreeForHealth's founder Dr. Wei Siang Yu, told ZDNet Asia the site currently employs six iMedical Butlers, and is looking to recruit more in the Philippines and India. The company is also looking at nurses fluent in the Russian language, to encourage inflow of visitors from Central Asia, Dr. Wei added.

The Web platform ties together a call center based in Singapore, with an agency in the Philippines, he said. Some 1,000 nurses in the Philippines have signed up for the training program to be engaged as iMedical Butlers.

Dr. Wei explained that the Web platform is aimed at providing a broader medical network to visitors so they do not have to enquire with individual hospitals and medical centers. FlyFreeForHealth will continue to identify and add new healthcare centers to the network after a selection process, he said.

"The behavioral pattern of medical travelers is changing--they look for more options, and they also want more interaction before selecting the doctor," he noted.

Porntip Makornpan, a director at Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the country saw an inflow of some 1.5 million tourists seeking medical care last year.

According to Deloitte Centre for health solutions, the number of Americans travelling abroad for medical care is expected to reach 6 million in 2010, and 15.75 million by 2017. Some US$16 billion in cross-border revenues were generated last year, and this number is expected to grow by 325 percent to US$68 billion in 2010.

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